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Overcoming the empty hand skills training deficit

These techniques can’t be learned through casual viewing or assimilation. They can only be learned and maintained through repetition

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These techniques are a part of de-escalation because they control without injury.

Dan Marcou

For the past year, I have been sharing empty hand tactics I have used and trained others to use to effectively defend against physical assaults and resistance on the street.

This series started with tactical options for countering specific attacks like strangles, kicks and headlocks, but now I will transition into empty hand physical control tactics.

I will share only tactics I know to be effective because I have used them with effect many times during an active 33 years career in a busy city on suspects who were bent on:

  • Resisting arrest.
  • Escaping.
  • Hurting me.
  • Hurting a fellow officer, or someone else I was sworn to protect.

These techniques are a part of de-escalation because they:

  • Control without injury.
  • Stop the escalating physicality of the contact quickly with effective control.
  • Prevent higher levels of force from being needed in situations where higher levels might become necessary if control of the resisting suspect is not achieved.
  • Allows for officers to gain immediate compliance and resume effective de-escalating communication.
  • Allows for officers similarly trained to recognize techniques applied by fellow officers and mirror them to achieve immediate control.
  • Help onlookers realize the officers controlling a suspect are professionals and trying to avoid injuring the suspect.

Many agencies do little or no ongoing training in empty hand control because:

  • It requires a considerable ongoing budgetary commitment at a time when budgets are constricting.
  • They believe everyone has already been trained in this in the academy.
  • There was an officer injured or even died in physical training and they believe this event can be avoided by not offering physical training.
  • They believe in the all-inclusive efficacy of pepper spray, batons, TASERs and firearms.
  • Some officers/commanders are resistant to physical training because…it’s physical.
  • Other budgetary priorities.

The series

To help expand the empty hand skills of every officer who wishes to improve this vital skillset, the techniques in this series will be shown “by the numbers” to facilitate practice.

This series is for verified LEOs only. If you are not a verified Police1 member, registration is free and easy. Click here to become a verified Police1 member and read the first article in this series.

These techniques can’t be learned through casual viewing or assimilation. They can only be learned and maintained through repetition. The skills shown will not be all-inclusive, but a small number of hands-on techniques that I found were effective and defensible. I offer a number of options because no technique works 100% of the time.

I have found techniques are learned best in the following progression. Practice them:

  • By the numbers.
  • Slow for form.
  • Achieving smooth applications.
  • At street application speed.
  • With partner applications.
  • Application during isolation exercises.
  • Application during scenarios.
  • Actual use on the street successfully.

Additionally, I recommend you learn to apply all techniques short of pressure and to be able to tell by touch the point where the suspect feels pressure by having your partner “slap” when he/she feels pressure. At this time, let up on the pressure. You will get used to the feel of each hold, when the point of pressure is reached and when you only have mechanical control without pressure. This is a powerful ability to possess, making these holds much more flexible in their street use.


If you are a chief or a sheriff, consider offering empty hand skills training in an ongoing manner to have your officers first learn, polish and then expand upon these skills.

If you are an individual officer committed to this career, it is time to stop depending on your chief or sheriff for your physical, legal and emotional survival. Do ongoing training on your own time with your own dime.

This series demonstrates options and allows for you to practice with fellow officers to acquire effective skills to meet active resistance effectively and defensibly. You see, what many talking of “de-escalation” fail to mention is there will always be times on the street when even after masterfully crafting eloquent and reasonable words to de-escalate situations, these eloquent words will fail. When words failed, I found my physical control skills to be invaluable throughout my career.

NEXT: Defensive tactics training: Front compliance

Lt. Dan Marcou is an internationally-recognized police trainer who was a highly-decorated police officer with 33 years of full-time law enforcement experience. Marcou’s awards include Police Officer of the Year, SWAT Officer of the Year, Humanitarian of the Year and Domestic Violence Officer of the Year. Upon retiring, Lt. Marcou began writing. Additional awards Lt. Marcou received were 15 departmental citations (his department’s highest award), two Chief’s Superior Achievement Awards and the Distinguished Service Medal for his response to an active shooter. He is a co-author of “Street Survival II, Tactics for Deadly Encounters,” which is now available. His novels, “The Calling, the Making of a Veteran Cop,” “SWAT, Blue Knights in Black Armor,” “Nobody’s Heroes” and Destiny of Heroes,” as well as his latest non-fiction offering, “Law Dogs, Great Cops in American History,” are all available at Amazon. Dan is a member of the Police1 Editorial Advisory Board.